Michael Phelps returned to the top of a podium for the first time since the 2012 Olympics when he won the 100-meter butterfly at the Charlotte Grand Prix on Friday.
Phelps made it through a grueling double in the morning preliminaries, also swimming the 200 freestyle, then limited himself to one race in the evening. While he didn’t improve on the time from the first meet of his comeback, when he finished second to Ryan Lochte last month, it was another big step toward competing at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“It’s been a while,” he said. “It’s nice seeing the first place next to your name. It’s good to be on that side of it again. That’s my first one since I came back. Hopefully, we can get a string of those.”
Going out strong and remaining comfortably ahead on the return leg, Phelps cruised to victory in 52.13 seconds, about a half body-length ahead of runner-up Pavel Sankovich of Belarus.
Phelps matched his time exactly from Arizona, his first meet since retiring after the London Olympics. But this time, he did not have to contend with Lochte, who aggravated his surgically repaired knee in Arizona and was advised by his doctors to give it some rest.
Asked if he could’ve beaten Phelps, Lochte smiled.
“No,” he said, holding out his left leg. “I’ve got a brace on my knee.”
The pair will have plenty of chances to race this summer. The national championships are in Southern California in August, followed later that month by the Pan Pacific Championships in Australia, which will determine the team for the 2015 world championships in Russia.
“He and I hate to lose to each other,” Phelps said. “It’s very good to get in a race with him. We do tend to really push each other to the max.”
Phelps took a break after the Arizona meet to attend a golf outing in Mexico for his charitable foundation.
“I would’ve liked to have been a little faster than I was in Mesa,” Phelps said. “But being able to go the exact same time while missing a couple of days and having a three-week beard on my face, it’s respectable.”
Phelps will head to a month of high-altitude training in Colorado next week and he plans to swim a more extensive program at the final Grand Prix meet of the season at Santa Clara, California, in late June. He’ll likely stick with the 100 butterfly, perhaps try another 200 free and maybe bring back another of his signature events, the 200 individual medley.
“Santa Clara will be my first full meet,” Phelps said. “We’ll have a better idea of what my body can handle, swimming multiple events and swimming every day. That’s something we’re looking forward to.”